Sony Hi-MD MZ-NH700

30 Sep 2004

Product: MD Unit
Price: €299

It’s been easy to ignore the rise — yet subsequent near-invisibility — of MiniDisc (MD) as a highly practical portable music format, offering excell-ent near CD quality sound. Or that’s how the neutral viewpoint goes; yet at a practical level MD players and recorders have just not generated the demand that Sony must have expected when it launched MD as a format back in 1992.

After all, a quick glance around soon reveals most people clutching streamlined CD players or sporting the tell-tale white headphones that denote an iPod, rather than toting a square MD player.

So how can Sony — the master and inventor of music on the move — get this underperforming format back out there?

Well, given that the iPod Mini’s been getting so much press lately with its 4GB capacity, Sony’s alternative newly rejigged MD format offers … 1GB. Yes, that’s right, at a time when consumers are aware that they can carry around thousands of tracks with them, Sony offers something that can store a fraction of what a chief competitor in the style/desirability stakes offers as a music/data storage device. But does that mean at one fourth the size of the iPod Mini, for example, you’re only getting something that’s one fourth as good?

No, not at all, as the Hi-MD still has many features that let it stand just fine on its own merits. For starters, taking it as a music system, the Hi-MD can still store an awful lot of songs — “45 CDs”, the packaging claims. As you’d expect, the Hi-MD ships with a CD that offers useful ripping software, although it can also record directly from a number of other devices. Data transfer is fairly quick and painless.

Indeed, given the size of the 1GB storage that the Hi-MD is capable of thanks to its interchangeable storage disk, the Hi-MD also functions as a pretty useful data storage unit, ready for you to port around data and music on the go in one handy all-in-one device.

There you have it in a nutshell — the Hi-MD’s two functions both work just fine, whether your interest is primarily for its music capabilities or whether you’d also need to use it occasionally as an emergency data dump.

Working against the Hi-MD a little was its design, which felt uninspired and — dare I say it — even a little clumsy. Squinting at the standard yet crowded three-deck display reveals a little too much going on, without a particularly clear layout or logical structure of features.

The inline remote controls entangled in the headphones — the most practical way of using the Hi-MD — do little to inspire love, practically willing your fingers to accidentally press the wrong button while attempting to just adjust the volume. Who decided that a digital scale of volume instead of an instant analogue switch was the way forward? Attempting to turn the volume down only to accidentally force an album change is just downright irritating, yet all too easy to do.

On the plus side, a rechargeable battery that can be replaced with an ordinary battery is one up on the iPod et al, where long-term battery life is an issue.

Ultimately, if you’re looking to get an up-to-date portable music system — ignoring the niche area that MD seemingly finds itself in — then you could certainly do a lot worse than the Hi-MD (available now for €299 incl. Vat). The only question is whether the Hi-MD system is a certainly-can or an also-ran device, given the seemingly unstoppable onslaught of all-in-one MP3 players currently dominating the marketplace instead of MD systems.

By Shane Dillon

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years